Whales pose as important components of the world’s marine ecosystem (NRDC, n.d.). Those stand among the most fascinating mammals; they manifest intelligence akin to that of human intellectual capacity such as linguistic communication, with their distinctive nervous system features credited for such (D’Amato and Chopra, 2010, p.1). Nevertheless, whales face threats to their existence due to incessant hunting activities. While the International Whaling Commission (IWC) sought to ban whaling activities in 1986, countries such as Japan and Iceland have refused to abide due to their own reasons (NRDC, n.d.). Japan has quoted scientific research, under the International Convention for the Regulation of Whaling (ICRW) as their reason for rejecting the ban (NRDC, n.d.; Hirata, 133), while Iceland has stood firmly to their whaling tradition and contended that whales within its jurisdiction amount to harvestable levels (D’Amato and Chopra, 2010, p.18). Verily, cultural and scientific interests provide the main anchors for nations dissenting against global anti-whaling covenants.
This study favours the position that there must be a global ban imposed on whaling. Its rationale should find support on three essential premises – (1) whales are moral entities deserving of the right to live, (2) whales are invaluably important to the marine ecosystem, and (3) the depletion of whales would deprive further studies on their potential intellectual capabilities. In establishing the foregoing, there will be a close examination of concurring and dissenting arguments on the global whaling ban, alongside crucial antecedents pertaining to legal loopholes, legislative hegemony and the marginalization of anti-whaling advocacies, particularly in the case of Japan. A synthesis of the study will seek to provide possible thoughts for resolving the apparent domestic-international conflict context of the problem.
Whales as Moral Entities
Scientific research has established the potential intellectual capabilities of whales. Important discoveries include the size and features of a whale’s brain (estimated to reach until six times the size of a normal human brain), the communication abilities of whales between its own kind and other species such as dolphins and their ability to form communities (D’Amato and Chopra, 2010, p. 1). Concurrently, whales exhibit the ability to feel pain, as recorded through their changing sound patterns in the event that hunters harpoon them to death during hunting (D’Amato and Chopra, 2010, p. 3). The fact that whales could feel pain – albeit the perceived lack of human ability to determine the kind of pain those animals experience, means that those creatures have the right to life (D’Amato and Chopra, 2010, p. 5).
In explaining that whales have the same right to life as humans, it would be wise to apply a humanistic view on those animals. Firstly, there is a clear understanding that whales could communicate both with their kind and with other marine species as well. It is not correct to conclude that whales, in that aspect, are communicating in a way that is of a lower degree than humans are. In fact, it may be well true to think that whales are communicating in a way that is naturally incomprehensible to humans – a reflection that humans might lack the ability to understand those communication lines. Second, the fact that whales cannot harm us gravely does not justify their slaughter. Such argument goes by the same lines that people who do not accrue benefits to society must nonetheless receive protection. The survival of whales relies on the responsibility of humans not to hunt them, and the only way for the latter to happen is for them to recognize that whales have rights (D’Amato and Chopra, 2010, pp. 4-5).
Importance of Whales to the Marine Ecosystem
At this point, there is a general acknowledgement that conducting marine ecosystem research is expensive, if not complicated. Nevertheless, contemporary research has stood in favour of whales having a significant role in the marine ecosystem. It is one such reason why the NRDC (n.d.) has called out against whaling. Bowen (1997, p. 267) expounds on that reason, underlining the functional role of marine mammals in the sense that each such species have the ability to influence the marine ecosystem. In relation to that, it is found that the reduction of whales have affected the decline of other marine species. The case of the Bering Sea fish assemblage is one example that manifested ecological changes caused by the reduction of whales. While the supply of krill and zooplankton – both being whale prey, rose to higher levels – hence providing more food for other fishes that resulted to their rapid rise in numbers, species such as sea lions, seals and other pinnipeds have sharply declined in number. It is in that case in which whales are significant in providing ecological balance (Bowen, 1997, pp. 271-272).
Japan, with its interests in continuing whaling activities, has asserted its position by saying that whales actually detriment the marine ecosystem through their massive consumption of fish. Although said standpoint comes out as one of the nation’s official reasons for rejecting the anti-whaling consensus, it is nevertheless ill founded by the preceding example; its own scientific research program, which they used to justify whaling, could have found in favour of said example, if not for results supporting the standpoint of the legislature. Furthermore, its reputation as a traditional whale-hunting nation makes its justification more lenient towards serving its own cultural interests (Hirata, 2005, p. 145).
Avoiding Further Depletion to Enable Further Studies
At this point, there is a now a firm establishment of the right to life of whales, citing their perceived abilities to communicate and convey the feeling of pain (D’Amato and Chopra, 2010, pp. 1-5). Given that, it is thus more practical to preserve the whale population in order to allow more room to study their cognitive features. It is best to record observations of whales and their distinctive features if those creatures are away from hostile environments. To make that possible, whaling activities sanctioned by Japan and other pro-whaling nations should stop. Said nation has pointed out their right to hunt whales in the name of scientific research allowed by Article 8 of the ICRW. Said legal loophole, alongside the persistence of the legislature, their assertion of cultural rights and the marginalization of domestic anti-whaling groups, has enabled the nation to carry on with whaling (Hirata, 2005, p. 145). Nevertheless, further reduction of whales in the marine ecosystem could endanger future efforts to study those creatures and their distinctive features. Ergo, depletion of whales could deny potential scientific discoveries and developments coming from whales.
A potential conflict in the movement for banning whaling globally would arise from assertions of cultural rights from traditional whaling nations such as Japan and Iceland. Both nations have people that regard eating whale meat as part of their culture (Hirata, 2005, p. 141), hence the difficulty in convincing those nations against whaling. Additionally, Japanese pro-whaling legislators proved to be resistant to popular calls for policy changes. Their control over the issue is overarching to the extent that they could deny prime ministers of any influence against their pro-whaling stance, together with the collective marginalization of anti-whaling circles within the nation (Hirata, 2005, pp. 147-149). Given such case, there must be a reassessment of domestic structures affecting the observance of global anti-whaling measures. Urging compliance to such an international covenant could backfire as an alleged move violating the right to sovereignty of nations. Presenting said issue as a global environmental concern, with the three preceding points in purview, is an important move for the resolution of this cause.
Whales are important components of the marine ecosystem whose distinctive features provide interesting opportunities for further studies. Hence, a global ban on whaling is highly recommendable to serve the foregoing well. By starting to regulate, if not completely ban on the first instance, whale hunting, there will be a higher regard to the moral premise of the right to life of those creatures. For the long term, such view could strengthen the influence of anti-whaling movements. Domestic conflicts could meet resolutions through constant dialogue between concerned parties favouring the propagation of further understanding of the anti-whaling agenda. Through that, international covenants against whaling, especially from the IWC, could become more influential and binding. Protecting whales by recognizing their moral rights, importance to the marine ecosystem and the need to study their distinctive features further could motivate the global campaign against whaling.
Bowen, W., 1997. Role of marine mammals in aquatic ecosystems. Marine Ecology Progress Series, 158, pp.267-274.
D’Amato, A. and Chopra, S., 2010. Whales: Their emerging right to life. Northwestern University School of Law Scholarly Commons, 63, pp.1-47.
Hirata, K., 2005. Why Japan supports whaling. Journal of International Wildlife Law and Policy, 8, pp.129-149.
National Resources Defense Council (NRDC), n.d. End Commercial Whaling. [online] Available at: < http://www.nrdc.org/wildlife/whaling.asp > [Accessed 5 January 2013].